The New England Patriots were incredibly lucky in that, for essentially two decades, they never had to worry about who their starting quarterback was: Tom Brady. As the years rolled by, and countless starters flamed out across the league—often leading to their coaches getting the pink slip in return—Brady and Head Coach Bill Belichick consistently came out on top, winning season after season, championship after championship. But, after the 2019 season, that came to an end when Brady stunningly left New England and signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Well, you know the rest. Brady wins a championship immediately with the Bucs. The Patriots stumble to 7–9 and miss the playoffs. This failure would mean Belichick’s seat would get a little warmer heading into 2021.
The Patriots’ mediocre but not exceptionally horrible 2020 season meant they only had the 15th overall pick in the draft, probably too low to get one of the premier quarterback prospects, such as Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, or others. But not low enough to miss out on a quarterback altogether. Enter Matthew McCorkle “Mac” Jones, whom the Pats selected with the 15th overall pick in the 2021 draft. Jones was named the starting QB at the perennial college football juggernaut in Alabama after Tua Tagovailoa left for the NFL and proceeded to have one of the greatest seasons for a college quarterback, well, ever. He led the country in completion percentage, yards, yards per attempt, touchdowns, and passer rating. Yet, incredibly, he was not considered an elite prospect by draft scouts, probably because Alabama has become such a machine under head coach Nick Saban that many prognosticators assumed that just about anybody could be a great quarterback at Tuscaloosa.
Even after the Patriots selected Jones, it was still widely assumed that Cam Newton, re-signed despite a very subpar 2020 season, would be the Pats’ starting QB for at least the beginning of the year. But Coach Bill still had a surprise to pull out of his sleeve. On the morning of Aug. 31, 2021, during final roster cuts, Boston Globe reporter Jim McBride tweeted that Newton had been released and that Jones would be the Patriots’ starter for the 2021 season. Because of this bombshell, Jones would become the first rookie QB to start Week One for the Pats since Drew Bledsoe all the way back in 1993. It was a stunning turn of events; most people assumed that Belichick would be very hesitant, at best, to hand the reins to the unproven Jones. But, the notoriously cryptic Belichick rarely lets his motivations out in public.
So, the Patriots will be heading into 2021 with an unproven, but very promising rookie as their starting quarterback. Jones will face off against his former ‘Bama classmate Tagovailoa and the Miami Dolphins in Week One, truly signaling that a new era has arrived. Jones, as a rookie, will undoubtedly have his lumps and growing pains in Week One. But, if he shows enough, Jones will give the Foxborough faithful hope that the next franchise QB has arrived.